It's fair to argue that no player on Atlanta's defense has had a bigger impact in the last two wins than Corey Peters.
The second-year defensive tackle came down with an interception in Week 6 against the Panthers in the fourth quarter that gave the Falcons a chance to put the game away. On first-and-10, Peters correctly diagnosed a screen play by Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and the resulting interception allowed the Falcons to score the game's final touchdown, giving them them the 31-17 win.
Perhaps even more impressive than making a big play in a critical moment by the young tackle is how he did it. The one-handed grab showcased impressive control and athleticism for any player, especially one listed at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds. His play and effort drew praise from head coach Mike Smith following the win.
"I think it was a one-handed catch that he was able to take out of the air," Smith said. "The one thing I was very pleased with was as the play continued he finished with the position that you want a defensive lineman to have on the football, and that's both hands on the ball. He did a great job. That was a great individual effort in reading the screen."
Last week, the progression of the 2010 third-round pick continued. Against the Lions, Peters had an all-around game, one that could be contested as his best as a pro.
In addition to his three tackles, Peters added a sack, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit and added two passes defensed. After starting the season slow, hampered by an injury that caused him to miss the first game of the season, he appears to be hitting his stride. He's progressed each week and is starting to show the return on Atlanta's third-round investment in 2010, a pick that had many asking "Who is Corey Peters?"
"We knew what kind of player Corey was last year as a rookie," Smith said on Monday. "He was a guy that was in our rotation and he was kind of in the back end of the rotation. This year, he's definitely getting more snaps and he's been very productive, especially these last two weeks. He's getting a real comfort in his pass rush. We knew that he was a good run defender. His pass rush has gotten better as the seasons gone on. I think he has a good feel working with Ray (Edwards) and John (Abraham) in terms of working not only two-man games, but three-man games."
As the health of Atlanta's defensive line has come together, so has the play of the defense. It's not a coincidence that Atlanta has stopped two of the renowned high-octane offenses in the season in back-to-back weeks. Just as Edwards was finding his mid-season form and fellow defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux recovered from a knee injury that caused him to miss three weeks, the Atlanta defense was able to pressure the opposing quarterback and cause turnovers.
As we often do, we turn to ProFootballFocus.com to use their meticulous analysis of every snap of every game played in the NFL to gauge just how well Peters played last week.
PFF wrote highly of Peters after his Panthers performance, but his contributions last week were on a different level. They described a player tough in run defense and agile in space, defending passes. They went as far as to say Peters' game outshined Pro Bowl worthy Babineaux.
As it stands now it's hard to argue there's not a player on Atlanta's defense that isn't more quietly having a superb season. With a few more weeks of play like the last two the name Corey Peters will no longer be a head scratcher, he'll be a player discussed as deserving of Pro Bowl votes.
He'll also be a key cog in the defensive front for the Falcons that is becoming game changers.